February 10, 2007

Where the Heart is Pure

Composer: Peter Scott Lewis Producer: New Albion Records: NA079 © & ℗ 1996

Poetry: Robert Sund
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Cover Art: Nathan Oliveira; Back Photo: Thomas Heisner

Recording Engineers: Jack Vad, Saint Stevens Church, Belvedere, CA; and Tom Lazarus, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA (Violin Concerto); Producers: Kent Nagano, Foster Reed, and Peter Scott Lewis.

Funding: This recoding was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that supports visual, literary, and performing arts to benefit all Americans.

First Violin Concerto was commissioned by Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in July of 1985. The piano score was completed the following September and the orchestra was completed in the spring of 1986. Robert Hughes conducted the premiere on April 25, 1987, with Mayumi Ohira, soloist. The concerto was later revived, with Kent Nagano conductng the Berkeley Symphony and Kees Hülsmann, soloist, on June 14, 1995. Both performances took place in Berkeley, California.

Where the Heart Is Pure was composed as a tribute to the wonderful Northwest poet, Robert Sund, who I’d had the pleasure of knowing for over 25 years at the time I composed the cycle. When I first met Robert, he was living in a converted net shack overlooking the Skagit River in the countryside outside of La Conner, Washington. For several years I made the journey out to visit him from my home in Seattle before moving to San Francisco. When I went to visit, we would typically stay up into the early hours of the morning while I improvised on the guitar, and he read his poetry. Since I’ve always wanted to set Robert’s poetry to music, I decided to create a song cycle depicting a journey out to see him on the river. With that in mind, the first section of the composition starts with me leaving the urban environment I’ve always had to live in to survive as a composer. To relate to that idea, the music is jagged, yet with a jazz-like swing, with the soloist singing my own version of scat. The second section is the travelling music which depicts the actual journey out to see him. This section then leads to a cello solo which is the actual arrival music, bringing the listener to the seeing of the first poem. All three poems are then set so the listener can easily understand them. Where the Heart Is Pure was completed on December 8, 1993, and was premiered on June 25, 1995, in Berkeley, with the principal players of the Berkeley Symphony. Stephanie Friedman was the soloist with Laurent Pillot conducting. The composition is scored for mezzo soprano and either large chamber ensemble or orchestra. The chamber version is recorded here.

Delicate Sky was completed on April 23, 1993, and was composed especially for this album. The title relates to the clarity of the lines and the translucency of the musical texture, which opens up the composition in its slower sections. Sun Music was completed on January 5, 1987, and was premiered on May 25th of the same year, in San Francisco. Miles Graber was the soloist. The composition is rhapsodic in nature and is meant to be uplifting in spirit, relating to the title.

Performers - In order:

Kees Hülsmann, violin

Kent Nagano, conductor

Berkeley Symphony Orchestra

Stephanie Friedman, mezzo soprano

Laurent Pillot, conductor

Principal Players of Berkeley Symphony

Nadya Tichman. Violin

Jack Van Geem, percussion

Robin Sutherland, piano


I. Violin Concerto

1. Summer Nights 7:07
2. A Song Of Contemplation 8:08
3. Toccata 3:54

II. Where the Heart Is Pure

4. Where The Heart Is Pure 7:24
5. Night Along the Columbia 6:11
6. Spring Poem in the Skagit Valley 2:01

III. Delicate Sky

7. Intense, Yet With Swing 6:12
8. Following Through 10:44

IV. Sun Music

9. Open Air 5:39

Performers by Track:

Track 1-3: Kees Hülsmann, soloist; Kent Nagano, conductor and music director; Berkeley Symphony Orchestra
Track 4-6: Stephanie Friedman, mezzo soprano; Laurent Pillot, conductor; Berkeley Symphony Orchestra
Track 7-8: Nadya Tichman, violin; Jack van Geem, percussion; Robin Sutherland, piano
Track 9: Robin Sutherland: piano


Peter Scott Lewis is a composer of considerable talents. ... solid construction ... strong rhythmic sections ... luminous ... ably performed by Kees Hulsmann and The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra ... under Stephanie Friedman’s flawless diction ... Robin Sutherland’s fine solo performance.
— Phillip George: 20th Century Music

San Francisco composer Peter Scott Lewis writes in an attractive tonal idiom that appeals to both the heart and mind. The music is euphonious and often disarmingly pretty, but with a core of strength that shows itself in surprising harmonic choices and vigorous instrumental textures.

Where The Heart Is Pure: ... a thoughtful and varied song cycle to poems of Robert Sund. The vocal writing shows equal concern for the shape of the poetry and for the autonomous demands of melody, and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Friedman gives a beautifully crafted performance. Violin Concerto: ... with vibrant sections... receives a committed performance from Kees Hulsmann. Delicate Sky: an offbeat, charming trio, gets a finely wrought performance by violinist Nadya Tichman, percussionist Jack Van Geem, and pianist Robin Sutherland.
Joshua Kosman: San Francisco Sunday Chronicle

The mood throughout is romantic without clichés, the writing contemporary without contrivance.  The piece makes demands on the soloist in ways that are both exciting and rewarding, with fresh sounds deftly woven into the total fabric.  Above all, it is an easy piece to listen to, yet one that promises fresh insights on rehearing.

Particularly attractive was an ostinato figure in the orchestra during the second movement that provides momentum over which the violin unfolds a lyrical melody.
Janet Livingstone: The Montclarion: Oakland, CA (Violin Concerto)
Composer PETER SCOTT LEWIS uses the poetry of Northwest American poet Robert Sund to very different effect. Where The Heart Is Pure (New Albion) is sung by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Friedman and performed by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. Both composer and poet capture the misty shades of the Northwest hills in their music and words, and while this is in the "new classical" vein, it will nonetheless appeal to any audience with good ears and an adventurous spirit.
— Steve Taylor: Hollow Ear Review
Peter Scott Lewis is a west coast composer, now living in San Francisco... What you find is a serious, straightforward neo-romanticism, almost Bergian, without the Viennese master’s edge. Written in the mid 1980s, at the height of a flowering of concerto composition in the United States, Lewis’ Violin Concerto is a fine example of the genre. It is challenging for the soloist and accessible to the audience, without pandering or condescending. Kees Hulsmann gives a fine performance. The other pieces are also quite good, especially Delicate Sky for violin, piano, and percussion, which recalls a less dense and more colorful John Harbison. All of the performers are excellent, as are New Albion’s sound and packaging.
— Stephen D. Hicken: American Record Guide

There Is No Exile Where The Heart Is Pure

I. There Is No Exile Where The Heart Is Pure

                         (for Pablo Casals)

Behind the barn, the first week of March, on a bright
morning after long rain,
the windy cedar tree
turns round and round in the sunlight.
A winter horse
rubs himself on the corner of the barn.
Little pieces of cedar glide down where the ants are
calling home their old senators who
have failed utterly.

Coming home, carrying suitcases full of noise,
they pass through small American towns.

On the barn wall,
rusted nails bleed; and in fences, in hinges, in boards.
The horse (I think of Casals in exile!) plays
a suite unaccompanied in the silver cedar boards.
Inside the barn,
the stranded haywagon shudders.
Between its floorboards
trickle to the earth.

A dry dusty odor mingles with festering dampness,
and a hand --
blue ridges and rivers coming and going through it --
rests on the white sheet of the windows.

My grandmother
comes to swing open wide the huge
double doors,
doors like drifting continents,
and a wedge of healing sunlight
slips into the barn before her.

II. Night along the Columbia, Day in Blewett Pass, Going Home


Far out on the dark river,
A fish jumps.

Dew is gathering on dry willow branches.

My Friends lie asleep,
And I head back to our tents in the locust trees,
A mile away.

The river has left a still pond.
A few snipe call back and forth in the night.
Their small tracks in the mud
            fill up with moonlit water.

I think of
Anonymous Chinese poets, old poems on silk,
The pleasure of being alone,
Through a herd of cows asleep in scant alfalfa,
              the last crop of summer.


Over my head, the moon is half in the sky,
Half in the locust branches.
Some people are still awake, talking softly.
Our small fire falls to a circle of quite coals.

Falling asleep,
I trace the long drive home tomorrow; south---
             then west,
              across the mountains.
And someone has mentioned Seattle.

Garbage cans
Spill over onto the sidewalk at Tai Tung,
               and the fat cook limps
               back through the screen door, smiling.

Down on the docks
They’re unloading a boatful of black-eyed halibut.
A fisherman
Seeing the moon on the wet deck
Remembers Norway.


A long the Columbia,
             three more hours and I’m home.
But first
I close the car door
And walk in a field of mountain grass.

I lie down, drink
clear water, dream of old rituals
and what it feels to be pure of heart.

When I get back home to the Ish River country,
I’ll open the barn door
And see the hides of white horses
               shedding rain.

III. Spring Poem in the Skagit Valley

The birds are going the other way now,
passing houses as they go.

And geese fly
        and forth
                 across the valley,
                  getting ready.

The sound of geese in the distance
         is wonderful:
                  in our minds
                  we rise up 
                  and move on.

All three poems © by Robert Sund 
Used by permission.